November 8th, 2007

Slow Cooking

smallernewsgame.jpgAs I’ve mentioned lots of times, legal disputes are complex matters that are often best left to the courts instead of the media. This was abundantly evident earlier this week.

Prompted by a press release issued by the American Red Cross that declared that “a very significant portion” of Johnson & Johnson’s suit against them was dismissed by the Court, some news outlets initially ran incomplete and, at times, misleading accounts of the judge’s decision.

A lot of this was due to reporters simply relying on the American Red Cross’s release about the suit. What their release failed to mention was that just one of eight claims originally alleged by Johnson & Johnson was rejected by the court. Indeed, the Johnson & Johnson lawyers were pleased with the court’s decision, which in large part denied the American Red Cross’s motion to dismiss, thereby allowing the Johnson & Johnson case to move forward as planned.

What became evident as I spoke to many of these reporters and gave them our perspective was that most hadn’t read the original or amended complaints, nor had they seen the court’s decision before publishing their stories. Instead, most based the tone and focus of their articles on the American Red Cross press release. (UPDATE: The passage above now includes a link to the Amended Complaint.)

Sigh. This is not surprising given the ever-growing need for speed in the media — but it is frustrating.

I’m all for providing details and information whenever possible, but news organizations should also have a responsibility to get their facts in order – particularly in legal matters where both sides have a story to tell and where there many facets to consider before drawing a conclusion.

Earlier this week, Richard Sambrook of the BBC published some quotes on his blog from a lecture given by David Leigh of The Guardian newspaper that I thought particularly apt. Though I don’t agree with all that he says, I was struck by Leigh’s call for more care in reporting:

You can get junk food on every high street. And you can get junk journalism nowadays in every outlet there is. But just as there is now a movement for Slow Cooking, I should also like to see more of a demand for Slow Journalism.

Slow Journalism would show greater respect for the craft of the reporter – a patient assembler of facts.

Whether the author is a reporter for a traditional news organization or a blogger, complexity is a dish that requires careful preparation. When short cuts are taken, the result can be difficult to swallow.


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